Democrats Inoculate Themselves Against Obama’s Coal Rule
Policy + Politics

Democrats Inoculate Themselves Against Obama’s Coal Rule

REUTERS/John Sommers II

Republicans believed the Obama administration’s new plan to curb coal-fired power plant emissions by 30 percent would touch off voter outrage in major coal producing states like Kentucky and West Virginia. Jon Terbush, writing online for The Week, trumpeted on Monday that “Obama just handed Mitch McConnell re-election gold.”

Not so fast. The only politician quicker than Senate Minority Leader McConnell to condemn the new Environmental Protection Agency rules was his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Obama’s New Carbon Rule

McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term and the opportunity to lead a new GOP majority in the Senate, denounced the EPA regulations unveiled on Monday as a "dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative Democracy itself.”

But Grimes one-upped McConnell - rhetorically at least - by pledging to “fiercely oppose the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority.” Grimes can’t allow McConnell to in any way link her to the highly unpopular president and his policies. Although experts predict it will be a close race this fall, McConnell holds a seven-point lead over Grimes in a new Rasmussen Reports survey.

In West Virginia, meanwhile, secretary of state Natalie Tennant, a Democrat running for an open Senate seat against Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, said she would “stand up to”  President Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs.”

Kentucky and West Virginia get more than 90 percent of their power from coal, and the coal mining industry remains an important component of both states’ economies. As The New York Times noted, Republicans moved swiftly to make the point that coal provides the majority of electricity in a half dozen states involved in tough Senate races, including Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana and West Virginia. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is paying for recorded phone calls in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana and Virginia to try to link incumbent Democrats seeking reelection to the new EPA rules.

Related: This Could Be Mitch McConnell’s Last Hurrah

Democrats are fighting back. For example, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (WV), one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking reelection this year, pledged to introduce legislation blocking the new rules. Moreover, some Democratic strategists point out that the Republican “war on coal” cry ended up being a losing issue in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race, according to The Times.

“There’s no question, [Democratic candidates’] vigorous opposition to the Obama proposal will help somewhat to protect them, but their larger problem is that the president is terribly unpopular already in their states,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato told The Fiscal Times today. “Their GOP opponents have one task: To tie them as closely to Obama as possible in a low-turnout election whose structure already favors Republicans.”

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